A jazz suite in the key of red Gwen Ansell and Salim Washington celebrate the revolutionary life, language and hard-ass leadership of an unconventional saxophonist, composer and generous collaborator.
Reading the text
Prelude: Home is where the violence is
“Everything I create starts with the music … [and music]… like any conscious human activity, can be a force to change humanity, society and the world.” Baritone saxophonist, composer, martial artist and revolutionary polymath Fred Ho (Fred Wei-han Houn) was born in Palo Alto, California in 1957 and grew up around the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where his father .taught political science. By his midteens, he was playing baritone sax in his high school orchestra and consuming everything he could learn about the Black Power Movement, the Black Arts Movement, the music called ‘jazz’, (Archie Shepp and Max Roach were on faculty and their sons were his friends) and the emerging Asian-American movement.
His “first insurrection”, he told the Harvard Review, was staged at home. He used his fists to defend his mother against beatings from an authoritarian father who, despite the academic distinction he achieved, still suffered racism, which he “internalised and took out on those at home”. After high school, Ho was undecided about his future. A brief foray into the Marines taught him more about the violence of arbitrary command structures, imperialism and racism, his resistance contributing actively to its brevity.
It also taught him skills – particularly in handto- hand combat – that he would later employ and teach in situations he saw as demanding revolutionary self-defence: “I’ve never subscribed to turning the other cheek, or to pacifism.” Toyi-toyi: Fuck patriarchy Fighting patriarchy at home made Fred Ho a militant. When he wrote his first opera score in 1985, Bound Feet, attacked the Confucian practice of defining and restricting women through their bodies: a recurring theme in Ho’s compositions and texts since then. “I share the political view that violence against womyn [spelled this way by myself to take the ‘men’ out] will only end when womyn defend themselves by any means necessary and overthrow patriarchy.” Ho saw all oppressions as rooted in capitalist patriarchy, and thus all struggles – for worker rights, immigrant rights, gender rights, land and environmental rights – as interconnected. He did not campaign ‘for’ women, with all the patronising baggage that position carried. He worked alongside women. His music, whether directly pro-matriarchy, such as Warrior Sisters (1991), Yes Means Yes, No Means No (1998) and Momma’s Song (2002), or more broadly radical, showcased the words of women including poets Jayne Cortez, Sonia Sanchez, Andrea Lockett and Christine Stark.
On stage or record, female musicians and performers featured in the line-up. As a writer and editor, Ho valued ‘first voice’, so in the books women speak for themselves and their own, self-selected images were seen. For a couple of years, from 1998, Ho edited the Calendar of Sheroes and Womyn Warriors. All the works are often searing in their honest naming of abuse, but defiance, strength and hope also resound: “The blues is not about sorrow, but about hope.”
Slow blues: From a whisper to a shout
Racially bullied at school, Ho read the autobiography of Malcolm X and joined (and left) the Nation of Islam before he entered Harvard. There, he joined the radical Asian- American organisation, I Wor Kuen, which later became the League of Revolutionary Struggle (LRS). He described moving from nationalism toward Marxism as Harvard taught him “what I did not want to become…part of the elite”, and as he and his comrades saw the interconnectedness of all struggles. That was an era when many radical organisations argued that national and gender struggles should be mentioned softly, subordinated to the bigger battle; either the revolution would solve them, or they could be dealt with “later”. That’s not Ho’s position today. There is space on his pages and in his grooves for Chicanindio poet and activist Raul Salinas, feminist writer Christine Stark, African-American saxophone colossus Sam Furnace, Persian-American vocalist Haleh Abghari, and too many more to number. The battlement-shaking shout of protest in his work is made up of diverse voices, each confident in its identity, all hollering together.
The diversity of militant voices in Ho’s work owes much of its inspiration to the Black Arts Movement (BAM), which flourished between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s. For cultural workers around BAM, art was a powerful tool for social change. To enhance its punch, inspiration was drawn from multiple sources, and art forms and codes of expression – words, images, sounds – were integrated and deployed in iconoclastic ways.
Read the rest of Gwen Ansell and Salim Washington’s celebration of Fred Ho’s revolutionary life, language and hard-ass leadership in the latest print edition of the Chronic.
Fred Ho was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2006 and his book, Diary of a Radical Cancer Warrior, documented his struggle with the disease and with capitalist (allopathic) medicine. Recurrent tumours have reduced his establishment calculated odds of survival to less than one in 30 000, but he fights on, embracing the Samurai warrior philosophy of living while preparing for death. He continues to document his fight.
Fred Ho’s Cancer Diary No. 42: No One Gets Out of This One Alive
The news is not good. It is absolutely confirmed that the cancer I’ve been fighting, now metastasized, is terminal, and very aggressive. I have at least 4 tumors now in my right lung, the one tumor in left groin has doubled in size since originally found in February 2012, and two new tumors in my liver (one about 2 cm and the other is 4cm).
Additionally, I have a blood clot in the left side of my heart, which requires immediate medical attention, perhaps caused by a heart attack. (I had collapsed on February 2, 2013 while in Philadelphia working that weekend on freeing the political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz).
Furthermore, head tremors have been noticed when I speak, especially when my brain is active answering questions in interviews, etc. This might be brain cancer, so a brain MRI scan will be done very soon.
All in all, we are looking at my continuing life span not making it to two years from now. Six months from now, major signs of deterioration will be noticed, including mounting fatigue. As my liver dies, toxins will no longer be filtered and ammonia will build in my brain and dementia will set in, leading to fits of violence and wanton anger. I will then have to enter hospice and be continually sedated with a morphine drip, or shackled to the bed.
I am immediately beginning a new chemo protocol, REGORAFENIB (pronounced re-goe-RAF-e-nib), which are pills taken orally every day. The immediate side effects are extreme fatigue. In addition, I will be taking medication for the heart blood clot as well. If it is found I have brain cancer, then additional medications might be necessary.
To everyone, please refrain from emailing and calling me. Writing letters and cards is the best way to directly communicate with me. My address is 1125 Lorimer Street #6F, Brooklyn, NY 11222. I have too many medical appointments, tests, and the fatigue I will be facing doesn’t allow for me to socialize much or to respond to all the inquiries and requests to see me.
Notifications of whatever public appearances I can do will be periodically sent out, and that is the time and place to best connect with me directly in person.
I have been attending to all of my worldly affairs, including donating all of my books, LP, CD and DVD collection to Peter Rachleff and Beth Cleary’s new community labor library which they are setting up in the Twin Cities. I have already shipped 50 boxes and 50 more will be going to them by the beginning of September 2013.
My super clothes are being exhibited for sale, either individually or the entire collection, by the Charles Knox Gallery (see below).
In the years during the cancer war, I have either gifted or loaned nearly $150,000, so you can add “philanthropist” to my list of identities. I am contributing another $130,000 to new projects during 2013. I am tapped out, so please don’t try to solicit me for support! I never got entrapped in the American matrix of debt and obese-level consumption, so by age forty, I was as free as anyone can become in the confines of that Matrix.
I have no regrets. I have optimized my life, fought the war as best as I could, sacrificed, struggled, suffered, all the while remaining as generous as I can be of myself and my resources. I am happy. The greatest sadness is my loss of my friendships with all of you that will happen very soon as I lose my mental faculties, spend growing portions of every day in bed, and eventually going mad. I want to be as direct in describing what to expect so that no one will feel sorry for me and fully understand when they see me “less” than I have ever been.
I truly don’t want to hear from anyone with proposed “cures” to cancer. That angers me the most. There is and never will be a cure because cancer and capitalism are the same accelerative malignant process—capitalism is the cancer for Mother Earth, and cancer is the social and environmental toxic saturation of capitalism for the individual human. Cancer types and rates are the most and highest in the wealthiest societies on this planet (allegedly with the most advanced medical technologies) and fewest and lowest among the most so-called primitive societies. The only cure is ending modern, industrial capitalist existence as we’ve experienced it within the past 200 years. Many of my recent theoretical writings have expounded more deeply on how to eliminate the cancer-capitalism Matrix, so I won’t take the time and space to do so here.
Speaking of which, I have completed several new books which comprehensively address fighting the Matrix, including MAROON THE IMPLACABLE: THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RUSSELL MAROON SHOATZ (PM Press) co-edited with Quincy Saul, THE A TO Z QUALITIES OF BEING A REVOLUTIONARY (Autonomedia / Big Red Media ), and a few more new essays which will be published in different forms during 2013. I also wrote some new big band works and I continue to teach from my kitchen table very promising young students.
Diary of the Dragon: The (R)Evolution of Fred Ho
Diary of the Dragon: The (R)Evolution of Fred Ho is a documentary film directed by Tylon “U-Savior” Washington, featuring original artwork by Shawna L. Glover, and soundtracked by The Way of the Wolf, composed by Fred Ho from the album Deadly She-Wolf Assassin at Armageddon. Its set for release later this year. Visit www.diaryofthedragon.com for updates.
Tributes to Fred Ho
A tribute exhibition at the Knox Gallery, 129 W. 129th Street in Harlem, NYC featuring Leah Poller’s sculpture and the sartorial designs of Fred Ho.
April 16: Book Signing of YELLOW POWER, YELLOW SOUL: THE RADICAL ART OF FRED HO (University of Illinois Press) featuring music by Fred Ho’s student, Ben Barson and vocals by Youn Jung Kim
April 18: Conversation with Fred Ho and the preview of the film DIARY OF THE DRAGON: THE (R)EVOLTION OF FRED HO directed by Tylon Washington and produced by BW Moving Images. Featuring performances by Monifa Maat and Gabriel Dresdale.
May 11: Closing (by invitation only)
All events are 6pm to 9pm.
Alongside Leah Poller’s sculptural tribute, the exhibition includes the (for the first-time ever) the sartorial designs of Fred Ho. Ho describes his “clothing line” as Mau-Mao Designs, paying homage to two powerful Afro-Asian historical references: the Kenyan Mau-Mau uprising of the late-1950s that eventually ended British colonial rule in East Africa; and to the late, Great Helmsman of the Chinese socialist revolution, Mao Zedong. Fred Ho says that his clothing (considered uni-sex as he purports to be about the complete elimination of gender and total free love) is influenced and inspired by four premises:
Fred Ho, never inclined to be for the mass market, has brazenly set a new standard for sartorial splendor, especially for the bad-ass males! Check out such couture concepts as Float Like a Butterfly, Sting like an Afro-Asian Bumblebee suit jacket, or Samurai Black Killer Fan Vest, or God of Gamblers Black Panther Boots. The reverences to Black- and Yellow-exploitation movies abound that put to shame tourists like Quentin Tarantino!
For more info visit www.knoxgallery.com
April 23 at 4pm FRED HO will be the Special Guest of Honor for the Asian American Studies Institute’s launch of YELLOW POWER, YELLOW SOUL (University of Illinois Press, 2013) . The Asian American Cultural Center’s Media Room, Student Union Building Room 428 at the University of Connecticut, Storrs Campus / 2110 Hillside Road, Connecticut. http://asianamerican.uconn.edu/mp-full.php?news_id=79
May 16-June 2 The World Premiere Off-Broadway run of DEADLY SHE-WOLF ASSASSIN AT ARMAGEDDON! At La Mama theater, www.lamama.org for tickets;
October 11-12 The world premiere of THE SWEET SCIENCE SUITE: A SCIENTIFIC SOUL MUSIC HONORING OF MUHAMMAD ALI featuring martial artists and the Green Monster Big Band, Brooklyn Academy of Music Next Wave Festival, Harvey Theater, www.bam.org.
Ho has begun a new revolutionary movement, initiated in Harlem, which has taken on the name of Scientific Soul Sessions (www.scientificsoulsessions.com), developing and training new leaders who will be harbingers of a new humanity, brimming with love, courage, creativity, brilliance, daring, ferocity and determination. Just like Fred Ho. But, as mentor-organizer Ho notes and expresses in his aspirations for these new leaders: to be better than himself, more than being quite capable to kick his ass! (And, as Ho slyly adds, making him obsolete so that he can truly retire!)
If you want notification about future events or updates Ho’s condition, you must join The Warriors for Fred listserv by requesting it from Ann Greene: firstname.lastname@example.org.